Luhta 110 Years – An international Finnish success story
For Luhta, 2017 has been a celebratory year for two reasons. Finland has been celebrating its 100 years of independence, and Luhta its 110-year history. Over the years, the company has grown from a small sewing workshop to an internationally successful business operating on multiple continents.
In 1907, Vihtori Luhtanen founded his own company in Lahti with his wife, Jenny. First, they purchased a sewing machine, and, later they brought home an embroidery machine from their trip to Helsinki. Their business idea was to combine Jenny’s craftwork skills with Vihtori’s sales talent. Vihtori started off by doing business at the market square in Lahti, selling men’s and women’s underwear and aprons embroidered by Jenny. Sales were successful, and so the Luhtanens broadened their selection to cover new products. As well as aprons, their range now also included cotton work shirts, moleskin, nanking and everlasting trousers, as well as regatta shirts, the fashion items of their time.
Soon the smaller room in the Luhtanens’ home was converted into a shop, and they branched out into selling their products to travelling salesmen and to small shops in the neighbouring villages. Vihtori employed more seamstresses, and so the business started to grow and expand in its operations.
The first Luhta sewing workshop was set up in Anttilanmäki, Lahti. The company later moved to the centre of Lahti, where a sales outlet was also opened. From downtown Lahti, the main office moved to a new business building in Asemantausta, where it operated from 1989 to 1992. Today, the company’s headquarters is still located in its hometown of Lahti, now in a fine twelve-storey high-rise building beside the motorway to Helsinki, with good connections to Helsinki Airport as well. Since its beginnings 110 years ago, Luhta has grown from a small sewing workshop to an international clothing business.
Growth through outerwear manufacturing
For more than one hundred years, Luhta has mastered the upward and downward phases of the economic cycle. At the same time, the world around it has changed, and the operating environment has transformed enormously. The ability and will to change have been key elements in Luhta’s success, both in designing collections as well as in developing and diversifying the company’s operations.
In the 1960s, Luhta created a clothing range that was more modern, technically lighter and suitable for everyday use. Consumers started to be better off than in previous decades, and in addition to having more money and choice, they quickly learnt to demand more and better products. People were keen to buy new and fashionable clothing, and wanted it to be high-quality, easy-care, well-fitting and comfortable. Luhta fulfilled these wishes creating the supply to meet consumer demands. Providing consumers with a continually up-dated product range and collections is vital, year after year. In short, the combination of an unbeatable price-quality ratio and modern design and look is the key to success.
Of all the single brands of the Group, Icepeak is one of the major international success stories. Icepeak was established in 1996 and is widely sold in Europe. The brand is sold in over 50 countries altogether, with the newest export countries being Japan and the USA. Furthermore, the brand has a shop chain in China. On foreign markets Icepeak doesn’t bring its Finnish roots to the fore, and at home also the brand has a predominantly international image rather than a Finnish one.
Better Performance and Efficiency
Finland is where everything happens – the design and marketing of all Luhta Group’s brands, as well as steering the engine of the corporation. Product manufacture has moved away from the domestic market over the past several decades. Manufacturing was transferred to Portugal at the end of the 1960s and beginning to the 1970s, then to the Baltic countries and Russia in the 1990s, and to the Far East in the 21st century. Most of Luhta’s manufacturing operations are located in China, where a subsidiary is responsible for production.
The whole 21st century has been a time of strong growth, development, investments and change to the company. Until now, most of Luhta’s expansion has been within Europe. In the coming years, the strongest growth will be sought from further afield, including from China, the USA and Japan. Among the preparations for this growth are modernisation and automation of the logistics centre in Finland, and construction of a bigger and more functional logistics centre for the Chinese subsidiary. Due to these investments, Luhta will improve both its deliverability and efficiency.
Visibility through Sponsoring
Luhta has sponsored many renowned top athletes and public figures with great success. Among these are Formula 1 world champion Keke Rosberg, race car driver Ari Vatanen, ice hockey player Jari Kurri and American movie star Don Johnson. Luhta is also known as the outfitter of winter competitions for many decades. The company has provided apparel for national team athletes in winter sports games and at a number of Winter Olympics games since the 1960s, for example in Zakopane, Squaw Valley and Oslo. Luhta has been the official outfitter of the Lahti winter sports games for several decades. This cooperation began in 1978, when Luhta had the honour of being the clothing supplier for the World Championships for the first time.
At the 2017 Nordic World Ski Championships, Luhta and Icepeak brands were highly visible to spectators, both on location and to TV viewers. In addition, the 2,500 organisers involved in the event wore the Finnish manufacturer’s apparel. Sports events will be the surroundings for the company’s brands in the future as well: the Finnish Olympic team will represent Finland in apparel designed and manufactured by Luhta in PyeongChang in 2018, in Tokyo in 2020, and in Beijing in 2022.
Retail business has grown into an inseparable part of Luhta Group’s operations throughout this century. At the turn of the millennium, one of the most significant decisions in the company’s history was made at Luhta with the company broadening from traditional industrial clothing to the retail business. Vihtori Luhtanen started off as a market vendor at the beginning of the 20th century. Now retail business is part of all the Luhta’s divisions, so we have come full circle.
The retail shop chains of the Group offer diverse services to consumers. Aleksi 13 shops are centred around the capital and the city of Tampere. Your Face shops cover the biggest towns from the middle of Finland southwards. Luhta Brand Store shops are already in operation in nearly 20 locations, and more are being opened at a steady pace. Luhta Outlet has also grown into a national network of shops. The sportswear chain TopSport was bought in 2015. Following the acquisition, Luhta gained its own distribution channel to the sports shop sector. Luhta is making its very first venture into the children’s clothing market with Luhta Kids Store. In autumn 2017, Luhta opened the first two shops, one in Hämeenlinna and another in the Aleksi 13 department store in Helsinki.
The Luhta aClass Customer Loyalty Programme operates in all of the shop chains of the company and it currently includes around 700,000 members. The more customers purchase from the Group’s shops, the more they benefit. Luhta aClass members also receive exclusive offers.
Luhta has gained ground in international retail markets, as well. Luhta Finland Fashion chain will open its 34th shop in Russia before the year-end. The first Luhta Outlet shops have already been launched in Germany. This year, the first Icepeak Store was set up in Italy and the number of Luhta shops exceeded one hundred. The retail business has also been expanded to China. Enquires began a couple of years ago, with the goal of opening 70 Icepeak shops in the country by the end of 2017.